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Microsoft tweaks antipiracy tech for Windows 7

Software maker is making a couple of changes to the activation process for the operating system as it works to find the balance between preventing piracy and limiting annoyance.

With Windows 7, Microsoft is making some subtle changes to the ways it tries to thwart piracy.

As has been the case for some time, Microsoft's strategy hinges on requiring a user to electronically verify their copy of the software, a process known as activation, and then the software also periodically validates that a copy of Windows is genuine.

In Windows Vista, if a user does not activate their software immediately, they get a warning that they still need to do so. The dialog box offers two options, to activate immediately or to do so later. However, the activate later box cannot be checked for 15 seconds.

Microsoft decided this was a bit too annoying. With Windows 7, users can click activate later immediately, but then get a dialog box touting the benefits of activation.

It's the latest effort by Microsoft to scale back the intrusiveness of its technology while still aiming to deter piracy. With the first service pack to Vista, Microsoft made the software significantly more usable to those whose versions of Windows are determined not to be genuine. Before that, Vista systems entered a nearly unusable "reduced functionality mode" once they were deemed to be non-genuine.

"We think we've gotten it to a pretty good place where it strikes an effective balance," said Alex Kochis, director of product management for Microsoft's Genuine Windows unit. "We're committed to the program for the long term because it works."

Microsoft said in December 2007 that it was seeing Windows Vista pirated at only half the rate of Windows XP. Kochis said that general trend has continued.

With Windows 7, Microsoft is also changing the name of its antipiracy technology, from Windows Genuine Advantage to Windows Activation Technologies. The Windows Genuine name took some beatings in the Windows XP time frame, so probably a good move from a PR standpoint.

The software maker is also adding technology designed to make it easier for businesses to activate multiple machines as well as manage activation for virtual machines.